Ida is a young American Indian girl living in a Montane reservation. Ida's family is thrown into turmoil when her aunt Clara gets pregnant by Ida's father Lecon. Ida's mother learns of the affair to her dismay, but works with Lecon to save the family name by hatching a plot to have the child appear to be Ida's. Aunt Clara goes away the a women's shelter for several months to have the baby away from the community's notice. A little girl, Christine, is born and Ida accepts full responsibility for her. The family arranges for the child to be legally registered as Ida's. Several years pass, and Ida has a child, a boy she names Lee, whose father is named Willard Pretty Dog. Ida raises the children by herself. Lee and Christine grow very close as children, but become more distant with age. When the Vietnam War begins, Christine convinces Lee to enlist, though his best friend Dayton begs him not to.
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Her little brother gone off to war, Christine leaves the reservation for Seattle where she bumps along from job to job. She learns from a letter sent by Dayton that Lee is missing in action, likely dead. In her grief she gets drunk at a bar and takes up with a black man, a soldier named Elgin. They possess and intense natural chemistry and move in together almost immediately, though Elgin is rarely home because of his daily duties at the military base where he is stationed. When his military duties are complete he moves home permanently, but becomes distant when Christine gets pregnant. The two get married, but this doesn't help matters and Elgin starts staying out late at night and sleeping with other women. They decide to continue their relationship, but live separately. The couple has another child, a daughter Christine raises, named Rayona.
Lee is confirmed dead and Christine and Rayona go to his funeral at the reservation. She sees Ida for the first time in years and the two fight bitterly at the drop of a hat. She leaves, wounded, but returns when she decides that her life is pointless in Seattle. She moves in with Dayton who is similarly drifting and leaves Rayona to be raised by Ida.
Rayona hates Grandma Ida and dreams of moving back to Seattle where she lived as a child. She is molested by a priest visiting the reservation as an teenager. Eventually she runs away and takes work as a garbage collector at Bear Paw Lake. She meets a married couple who take pity on the young woman and give her a place to live with them. They soon learn she is a runaway and arrange for her to go back to her mother and grandmother. She meets Christine at a rodeo near the reservation in Montana. After all the hardship, the mother and daughter can finally accept each other and they begin living in the community with Ida in peace.
Best part of story, including ending:
This is one of those books I had to read for a class that I didn't really enjoy much. Lots of angst, lots of drama. It's probably very accurate to people's actual feelings, but I can't say I liked the book much.
Best scene in story:
I liked Christine slumming it in Seattle. It's a Seattle of a couple decades ago, so it was very different from the one I know from my own travels.
Opinion about the main character:
I think I found Christine to be the most relatable and also the most unlikable character. I feel like I wouldn't have gotten along much better than her, but her flakiness was tiresome.